200 Loretto Hospital workers begin strike

Workers at the West Side medical center are demanding raises, increased staffing and better working conditions.

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Carla Haskins, a patient care technician at Loretto Hospital for 5 years, leads a chant for striking workers represented by SEIU Healthcare Illinois as they march Monday morning outside the West Side hospital.

Carla Haskins (center), a patient-care technician at Loretto Hospital for five years, leads a chant for striking workers represented by SEIU Healthcare Illinois on Monday outside the West Side hospital.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

About 200 Loretto Hospital workers went on strike Monday morning.

Workers walked off the job at 7 a.m., and after holding a news conference, formed a picket line to demand raises, more staffing and better working conditions in a new contract with hospital management.

Striking workers at the West Side hospital include certified nursing assistants, med techs and housekeeping staff.

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They wore purple shirts and chanted “Fight for staffing!” while waving signs with a variety of messages, including, “Shame on you Loretto” and “Workers Deserve Respect.”

“We are here to respond to a crisis of Loretto’s making,” SEIU Healthcare Illinois President Greg Kelley said Monday morning outside the hospital. “Workers are often working seven days a week, doing the work of multiple people.”

Negotiations for a new contract have been ongoing since May.

The latest talks began at noon Monday, when the union presented its latest offer — which included starting wages at $17 per hour — to hospital management. But at a news conference outside the hospital Monday afternoon, chief SEIU negotiator Anne Igoe said that proposal was rejected.

Igoe added that the hospital did not present a counteroffer to union members. The workers will continue their strike and wait for hospital management to come back to the bargaining table, she said.

Loretto is facing a staffing crisis, with vacancy rates ranging from 25% to 35% in various positions and an annual staff turnover of 60%, the union said in a statement.

About 200 workers at Loretto Hospital strike Monday over wages and staffing.

About 200 workers at Loretto Hospital went on strike Monday over wages and staffing.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“The hospital is lagging behind other facilities on wages, despite having been allocated $10 million in funding from the state of Illinois specifically to address worker recruitment and retention,” the statement said.

Erica Bland-Durosinmi, executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, said the hospital needs to reward its workers for staying loyal to the community they serve.

“Workers are here because they care about the patients and are invested in the community,” Bland-Durosinmi said. “And we will be here on this strike line as long as it takes for Loretto to get their priorities safe. This money is for staffing, and that’s where it should be.”

Emergency room tech Wellington Thomas said the staffing issues have led to dangerous work conditions for employees, who are often left to fend for themselves.

“I come to the ER, we get beat up. Recently we had an ER tech, a nurse and a public safety officer get beat up,” Thomas said. “After we keep shedding a light on these incidents, management has not done anything about it. We’re sitting here and trying to push, and saying you need to make sure we’re staffed and protect us. Because guess what? Who’s going to protect us when management doesn’t?”

Yolanda McPhearson, lead crisis worker at Loretto, said the hospital has already spent a million dollars on temporary staff. She said that money could have gone to full-time staff and prevented the strike.

“It does not add up for the patients, it does not add up for this community,” McPhearson said. “It is time for Loretto to check their math and check their priorities and return to the bargaining table to stop this strike. As a crisis worker, I am a front-line worker from my community, and it’s time for Loretto Hospital management to take care of us.”

A statement from Loretto Hospital made it clear the two sides are still far from an agreement:

“Unfortunately, after bargaining all weekend and until nearly midnight last night, Loretto Hospital was not able to reach an equitable and sustainable agreement with the SEIU. The SEIU has refused to provide a counteroffer to our latest proposal, which is very disappointing.

“Loretto Hospital has submitted many proposals to address the SEIU’s demands for more competitive wages, recruitment and retention, short staffing, and an additional holiday. In some classifications, the SEIU is demanding more than 20% wage increases when longevity is included.”

The strike boiled down to money, not patient safety, hospital officials said.

“The SEIU’s demands far exceed the hospital’s current economic reality and eliminates our ability to provide wage equity for all hospital employees, including union and non-union. Our non-union employees have not received salary increases in three years and voluntarily took a 10 percent pay cut to prevent the layoff of their team members,” the statement said.

The hospital said it would carry out “contingency plans” during the strike to continue to operate and meet patient-care requirements.

Last year, the hospital’s chief executive and president abruptly left. Employees learned of George Miller’s departure in a brief memo from the hospital’s general counsel.

The move followed several investigations from Block Club Chicago and the Better Government Association revealing alleged financial mismanagement at Loretto and potential misuse of COVID-19 vaccines when they were in high demand and short supply.

The hospital board launched a probe into allegations that executives had taken city-supplied vaccines and used them to inoculate people at the Trump Tower downtown and other locations, rather than use it for residents of the Austin community that Loretto serves. In some of the cases, the hospital gave shots to those who were not eligible.

Regina Smith (left), who has worked in food and nutritional services at Loretto Hospital for 15 years, marches with other striking workers represented by SEIU Healthcare Illinois outside the West Side hospital on Monday.

Regina Smith (left), who has worked in food and nutritional services at Loretto Hospital for 15 years, marches with other striking workers Monday outside the West Side hospital.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Striking workers represented by SEIU Healthcare Illinois march and chant Monday morning outside Loretto Hospital on the West Side.

Striking workers represented by SEIU Healthcare Illinois march and chant Monday morning outside Loretto Hospital on the West Side.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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